Google wants to squash political debates among its employees

Company publishes updated community guidelines

By Sara Ashley O'Brien, CNN Business
Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images via CNN

Google is urging its employees to cut back on political debates at work.

(CNN) - Google is urging its employees to cut back on political debates at work.

The company published updated community guidelines for its employees this week, informing staffers that "disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story" does not help build community.

Google has historically prided itself on embracing free speech and open debates among employees. But that culture has proven increasingly challenging for Google, which has found itself under fire with some politicians accusing it of anti-conservative bias and some of its workers claiming they were retaliated against for speaking out about the company.

"Community guidelines exist to support the healthy and open discussion that has always been a part of our culture. They help create an environment where we can come together as a community in pursuit of our shared mission and serve our users," said a Google spokeswoman in a statement to CNN Business. "It's critical that we honor that trust and uphold the integrity of our products and services. The guidelines are official policy and apply when employees are communicating in the workplace."

Google first published community guidelines about a year ago concerning how employees engaged with each other, specifying that trolling online and name calling are not okay in the workplace.

The new guidelines expanded on that mandate, noting employees should not make "statements that insult, demean, or humiliate (whether individually or by reference to groups) other employees, our extended workforce, our business partners, or others (including public figures)."

The guidance also applies to internal channels, including the company's email listservs, where a lot of employee conversation takes place. (That's where former Google engineer James Damore sent around his controversial memo on diversity that made waves in 2017 and resulted in his being fired.) Other channels include Memegen, where employees create and post memes to give feedback on various topics, and Dory, a Q&A system that allows employees to vote on questions to ask executives.

Google is also seeking to cut back on employees making "false or misleading statements about Google's products or business that could undermine trust in our products and the work that we do," according to its guidelines.

In addition to the new guidance, which was first sent in an email by CEO Sundar Pichai to employees before it published online, the company said there will be a new "central flagging tool" for employees to report content that may not align with its guidelines. A new "community management team" will then assess whether the content is in violation.

The guideline updates follow a tumultuous few years at the company concerning employee uprisings. Google decided not to renew its work with the Department of Defense, known as Project Maven, after thousands of outspoken Googlers protested. More recently, Googlers walked out of corporate offices in a coordinated protest last November to express outrage after years of sexual harassment allegations and secret multimillion-dollar severance packages for executives accused of misconduct were unveiled by the New York Times.

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